Discworld: Pyramids

The seventh Discworld book, and the first standalone story.

Teppic has just graduated from the Ankh-Morpork Guild of Assassins' School, the finest educational establishment on the Disc, when he learns that his father has died and he is now King of Djelibeybi, a tiny backwards state (heavily based on Ancient Egypt) which has long since sold its empire to pay for more pyramids to bury its dead kings in. At first enamoured with the idea of being the king, Teppic soon discovers that it's not quite what it's hyped up to be. A country thousands of years old shows remarkable resistance to change (or plumbing), and Teppic soon begins to yearn for what he left behind. With the help of a surprisingly sharp handmaiden named Ptraci and a camel named You Bastard who is not all he seems, Teppic goes forth with the attempt to escape his own kingdom from the clutches of the domineering High Priest Dios.

Terry Pratchett has quoted the assassin "road test" as one of his favourite sequences, and that he had no idea where it was going while he was writing it.note 

Preceded by Wyrd Sisters, followed by Guards! Guards!.

Contains examples of:

  • Abdicate the Throne: At the end, in favor of Ptraci.
  • All Myths Are True:
    • Like the real Egypt, Djelibeybi has several different gods for the same thing (in the real world, due to Egypt assimilating Greek, Hittite etc gods alongside their original ones). So this means that they all fight for who gets the job of moving the sun around, with a nearby priest acting as a sports commentator to describe it.
    • Subverted when Teppic's father meets Death, and is confused because he does not look like a giant scarab. Apparently, Death used to look like whatever people expected the personification of death to look like, until it became too tiresome and he decided to settle for the "skeleton with a scythe" look.
  • All Stories Are Real Somewhere: The narrator notes that this must be the case in an infinite universe.
  • Anachronism Stew: The Tsortean delegation is stated to be mimicking Djeli culture imperfectly; in particular, their clothing is based on clothing from multiple different eras of Djeli history. A footnote explains that it's comparable to an ambassador to the UK wearing "a bowler hat, a claymore, a Civil War breastplate, Saxon trousers, and a Jacobean haircut".
  • Anatomically Impossible Sex: It features on a tattoo that defies biological facts. (An in-story example; all we are told about the tattoo is that it defies said facts.)
  • Ancient Egypt: Djelibeybi is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of this, turned Up to Eleven.
  • The Anticipator: Teppic considers doing this to Mericet, his Assassin's school examinator (managing to kill the examinator gets you an automatic pass, because it's nearly impossible), but decides against it. Mericet was in fact hiding as a gargoyle, tells Teppic where to go next (involving an obstacle course worthy of Assassin's Creed), and somehow shows up there before Teppic.
  • Anti-Villain: Dios isn't exactly wicked, just inexorably hidebound and traditional.
  • Authority in Name Only: Teppic may be the king, but over the course of his seven thousand year career as High Priest and Chief Minister, Dios had gathered all actual power to himself. Every royal declaration made by Teppic, even something as trivial as 'I do not want to have chicken for dinner' is ignored in favor of whatever Dios decides, by everyone.
  • BFG: Obliquely referenced, as Teppic learned to use a "puntbow" from the ibis poacher whom his father absent-mindedly appointed as a tutor. Punt guns actually existed, and were used for the same purpose of killing waterfowl en masse.
  • Boarding School: The first part is an extended parody of English school stories in general and Tom Browns Schooldays in particular.
  • Brick Joke: Dios suggests pirates as the reason the mattresses and plumbers that Teppic ordered never arrived. In the ending, it's implied that was actually the case, and the pirates afterwards made the mistake of trying to rob Chidder.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: A (chaste) kiss. And this being a version of Ancient Egypt, the only one who has a problem with the idea is Teppic himself, since he was educated in Ankh-Morpork — Ptraci is instead angry and distraught that Teppic is against it. Although, it was hinted that the mother was just as confused as her daughter and that Teppic and Ptraci weren't that closely related.
  • Carpet-Rolled Corpse: Ptraci tries to emulate an ancient queen who'd used this method to smuggle herself into her lover's chambers. Reality Ensues when she's unrolled and finds there's nothing romantic about lint, dizziness, or being dumped out on the floor.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Teppic's father is like this in life. After death he finds he can reason much more clearly.
  • Continuity Nod: Teppic discovers the reason why he had a headache before his exam was that he went on to drink reannual wine to celebrate (which grows backwards in time, introduced in The Colour of Magic), and the 'hangunder' affected him before he drank it.
  • Creature of Habit: Dios, literally.
  • Death Glare / Eye Beams: Dios has such a good one that Teppic is surprised not to see lines of molten rock on the walls when Dios is scanning the room for Ptraci.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Assassin's Guild school's final exam resembles the UK driving license test.
  • Double Think: The religious beliefs of the Djelibeybians are obviously contradictory, with multiple "supreme" gods ruling the other gods. Dios believes in all of them even though he invented most of them himself. He does, however, have some trouble with the idea of the sun and moon orbiting four elephants standing on a giant turtle.
  • Dramatic Sit-Down: Dios the High Priest is so shocked at a Djelibabian ruler not following the rituals that he sits down on a chair which happened to contain a model ship for the king's tomb. The ghost of the king notes that it's the first time he's ever seen Dios do anything comical. Later on he also has to sit down on the temple steps when the entire pantheon is coming to life.
  • Drunken Song: Teppic and his friends get drunk after passing the exam, and end up singing "A Wizard's Staff Has a Knob on the End".
  • Due to the Dead: A handmaiden gets in trouble for not volunteering to accompany the king.
  • Endless Daytime: Thanks to Djelibeybi's many sun gods fighting over control of the sun.
  • Extended Disarming: Implied.
    Guard: Put down your weapons.
    Pteppic: What, all of them?
    Guard: Yes.
    Pteppic: This could take some time.
    Guard: And keep your hands where we can see them!
    Pteppic: We may be at something of an impasse there.
  • Evil Chancellor: Dios is more of an evil priest than an evil chancellor, but the trope is referenced in describing him. "It is a fact as immutable as the Third Law of Sod that there is no such thing as a good Grand Vizier. A predilection to cackle and plot is apparently part of the job spec. High Priests are the same way. No sooner than they're given the funny hats, they start getting ideas about throwing virgins into volcanoes."
    • Although in the aspect of him being the high priest, he very much follows expectations in that he is not explicitly insane or power-hungry, but so pious that adherence to belief and tradition override all else.
    • Hoot Koomi wants to be this, but Dios won't have any of it. Even when he finally gets the job at the end, he can't get any evil machinations past new ruler Ptraci.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: The historical wars between Ephebe and Tsort resemble the mythical Trojan War. In this book, when there's a threat of the war re-erupting, both sides build wooden horses along the border.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Djelibeybi is, in the words of Stephen Briggs, "Ancient Egypt turned up until the knob falls off". Ephebe and Tsort are also based on Ancient Greece and Troy respectively.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Or to phrase it another way, the Fate After Death for almost every single person who has been mummified in Djelibeybi. As a result of the rather convoluted belief system of the Djelibeybians, no one manages to truly die but neither do they manage to ever pass on. Instead, they remain bound to their bodies, which are then methodically dismantled and sealed up in tombs for all eternity.
    • Approaches And I Must Scream for one particularly-unfortunate mummy, whose sarcophagus lid was so well-secured that he couldn't even get out to pace around in his tomb.
    • Depending on perspective, this happens to Dios as well.
  • Fertile Feet: Although it was a later book that was the Trope Namer.
  • Formulaic Magic: Camels can use math to manipulate dimensions.
  • Friendly Enemy: Though the elite and citizenry of Ephebe and Tsort may hate each other dearly, their soldiers (or at least their commanders) don't appear to hold a particular grudge.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: Djelibeybi (of course) uses hieroglyphs, which Teppic pronounces out loud as "eagle, squiggle" and so on.
    • And Fridge Brilliance for those that realised that when he imagines the hieroglyphs for 'feather mattress' it's a hippo's bottom, a reference to a long-running series of bed adverts in the UK starring a hippo and canary.
    • Of course the literal translation of 'Djelibeybi' is child of the Djel. Djeli-baby...
      • Also a Shout-Out to the Greek historian Herodotus, who referred to Egypt as "the gift of the Nile"
      • In a Usenet posting, Terry Pratchett realized that this sailed right over the heads of most American readers, as Jelly Babies are not generally sold there. One of the alternative jokes he suggested, Hersheba, later became an actual country in Discworld.
  • Grapes of Luxury: Partially subverted. Teppic doesn't really approve of the practice, and even asks that the servants not peel the grapes because most of the vitamins are found in the skins.
  • Human Sacrifice: Koomi, bucking for a Klingon Promotion, gets the other priests to consider this as a way to "send" Dios to negotiate with the gods. The fact that the gods are right there threatens to scuttle the idea, even before Dios himself shows he's not so easily disposed of.
  • Improvised Lightning Rod: Pteppicymon the Twenty-Eighth, last Pharaoh of Djelibeybi, climbs the malfunctioning Great Pyramid whose power has awoken several thousand deceased monarchs and allowed the gods to walk the earth. Using an Assassin throwing knife as a desperate lightning conductor, he earths the cosmic forces that have run rampant and allowed all this chaos to happen. He inhumes the full Set, as it were.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The reason both armies build an army of wooden horses. The reasoning goes that if the enemy is stupid enough to try it they're stupid enough to fall for it.
  • Internal Reveal: Teppic's father mentions very early on that Teppic and Ptraci are brother and sister — but, being a ghost, nobody hears him. Teppic and Ptraci don't find out about it until the last pages of the novel.
  • In the Blood: Divinity and confidence in ruling, apparently, with the occasional bout of Fertile Feet.
  • Klingon Promotion: Inhuming a professor is rumored to get a student assassin instant promotion to full membership in the guild. But since attempting to inhume a professor and failing will get one stripped of many student privileges (Starting with the right to breathe), nobody actually tries it.
  • Lame Comeback: Ptaclusp IIb (a cosmic-minded architect) tells his twin brother Ptaclusp IIa (an accountant) "The trouble with you is you know the price of everything and the value of nothing". IIa retorts "And the trouble with you is ... is that you don't!"
  • Lock and Load Montage: Teppic getting ready for his Assassination final. Subverted in that he proceeds to collapse under the sheer weight of all his gear, and has to leave most of it behind.
  • Meaningful Name: "'The trouble with you, Ibid,' [], 'is that you think you're the biggest bloody authority on everything.'"
  • Misplaced Sorrow: One of the surviving student assassins mourns the one who didn't make it, noting, "He still owed me money".
  • Moody Mount: You Bastard the camel.
  • More Than Three Dimensions: Played straight and extensively explored. The shape of a pyramid allows it to be a dam in the flow of time, which causes the dimensions to get flipped around in strange ways in their vicinity; for example, one unlucky man becomes thinner than a sheet and begins to move continually to the right. All his dimensions have been shifted, so time became breadth. (They stop him aging by putting a large rock in front of him.)
  • Nepharious Pharaoh: Dios the High Priest — effectively the ruler of the kingdom, manipulating a succession of essentially benign but hopelessly confused Pharaohs for seven thousand years. Pratchett offers a subversion of this idea, suggesting that the pharaoh is essentially a powerless figurehead and real power resides elsewhere in an Ancient Egypt-like country.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Ptraci fears being thrown to the crocodiles for escaping from the late King's tomb. Later, any priest who says something the now-manifested gods might take offense at is thrown to the river's crocodiles by the other priests. Pteppic's mother was also killed by a crocodile, although not as a form of execution; she "took a midnight swim in what turned out to be a crocodile." When the Djel gods manifest and start tearing up the place, a crocodile-headed river god tries to bite off the snake-head of a rival river god.
  • Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: One of the flashback scenes during Teppic's assassin examination involved a classmate performing his bedtime prayers... which involved the ritual sacrifice of a goat.
  • Ouroboros: Dios doesn't notice until the very end that the serpents on his staff of office are holding their own tails in their mouths, symbolizing that he's caught in a Stable Time Loop.
  • The Philosopher: Ephebe seems to be made up of little else.
  • Pinball Projectile: The arrow ricocheting at the assassin's test.
  • Pirate: Chidder. Specifically, one who preys on other pirates.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Pteppic is an Assassin who doesn't kill people (apart from inhuming the pyramid and the gods at the end; he doesn't kill people that are "alive" in the conventional sense.)
  • Pun: Djelibeybi. (Helped along by the fact that it literally means "Child of the Djel".) That Americans weren't getting the pun led Pratchett to create the nearby country of Hersheba.
  • Rage Helm: The soldiers wear them even during innocuous conversation.
  • Rescue Romance: Subverted in the end, when Teppic and Ptraci find out they're brother and sister. Ptraci still wants to go through with the romance, while Teppic — who spent much of his formative years in the more modern Ankh-Morpork — is thoroughly against it.
  • Riddle of the Sphinx: Spoofed. Pteppic encounters a Sphinx who asks him this riddle. He's unable to answer, but protests that the metaphor is overly simplistic, forcing it to give a more accurate version covering all possibilities. Pteppic answers this and walks off before the Sphinx remembers that it had already told him the answer.
  • Riddling Sphinx: Asks the Riddle of the Sphinx. Pteppic manages to pick apart the metaphor and confuse it into forgetting it told him the answer.
  • Royal Inbreeding: High Priest Dios suggests that newly-crowned pharaoh Teppic marry any available female relative.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mericet has this reputation among the would-be Assassins (potentially literally - this is a school for assassins, after all), although he does give Teppic a Pass after a really grueling test.
  • Sapient Steed: You Bastard the camel is the Disc's greatest mathematician. Ptraci never catches on that he's not just a really stupid animal, and while Teppic realizes YB can get him back into the Old Kingdom, he has no clue it's done via brilliant mathematics.
  • Shaggy Frog Story: Copolymer (the Greatest Storyteller in the World) constantly lapses into this due to his bad memory and short attention span.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Aforementioned storyteller also says of a great hero that "his armor shone like shining armor."
    • Most of the Djel gods are equipped with seemingly-random animals' heads ... except for Bunu, the Goat-Headed God of Goats.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Go, tell the Ephebians... Subverted in that it's followed by "What kept you?" as the rest of the Ephebian army marches in.
    • Quite a lot of elements in this novel are Gormenghast references, particularly Teppic's parents and how Dios's endlessly-repeated daily activities have worn depressions in stone, he's retraced his daily path so perfectly so many times.
    • The relationship between Dios and Teppic is a shout-out to the British comedy of government, Yes, Minister, with Dios playing the Sir Humphrey Appleby role of senior civil servant effortlessly running rings round an enthusiastic but clueless Minister. Dios even says "I am but a humble servant..."
    • There's a particularly clever one explained in one of the Discworld quiz books: it's mentioned the Assassins' School has a notoriously nasty bully called Fliemoe, who is clearly an expy of the bully Flashman in Tom Browns School Days. Flashman had a sidekick called Speedicut; Flymo and Speedicut are both British makes of lawnmower.
    • Pretty much all of the Ephebeans are shoutouts to various Ancient Greeks, including Aesop, Zeno (who also mentions Aesop's tortoise/hare fable), Pythagoras, Homer, and Aristophanes.
    • The scene where Pteppic has to hold too many items of regalia at once, including the Cabbage of Vegetative Increase, is a Shout-Out to an old British game show in which contestants tried to hold as many prizes as they could, plus actual cabbages given as a penalty.
    • The third part of the story is called "The Book Of The New Son", after Wolfe's epic which also features a recently graduated black-clad protagonist from a murderous guild, who becomes a ruler, has an ancient adviser and who gains godlike powers. The Power of Belief, and time loops, are also common themes.
  • Springtime for Hitler: The final exam to become a fully fledged Assassin is to find, stalk and kill (inhume) a target, overcoming obstacles placed by the instructor. Teppic makes it to the target, but cannot bring himself to kill, so he looks the instructor in the eye and deliberately misses with his crossbow. Through a complicated ricochet, it ends up striking the target anyway. The instructor passes him, but scolds him for showing off. It turned out to be a dummy anyway.
  • Stable Time Loop: Dios, to the point he may exist purely because of the loop — not even having been born but just existing.
  • Stepping-Stone Sword: Teppic uses knives this way, and notes that it's Awesome, but Impractical as you eventually run out of knives, and it can ruin their cutting edges.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Trope Namer.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Played with. Pteppic gets past the sphinx by confusing it and tossing its own riddle back in its face. By the time it realizes something is wrong, he's already running.
  • The Trope Without a Title: Chidder's Cool Boat is called the Unnamed.
  • Time Abyss: Dios. He'd be 7,000 years old at the beginning of the novel if he even had an age... and at the end of the book he is looped back to the beginning of the kingdom.
  • Trojan Horse: The original is parodied - both Ephebe and Tsort's armies have read their history and nowadays fight battles just by building a dozen wooden horses, placing them on opposite sides of the battlefield, and waiting for the enemy to blink first and grab one.
    "The one on the end's on rockers, sir; must be the officers."
    • Both sides rationalize that if the enemy is dumb enough to try this tactic they are dumb enough to fall for it. Comes up again in Eric, where it turns out the real original was an elaborate distraction for the commandos coming in the back gate while the defenders prepared to wipe out the team in the (empty) horse.
  • Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: King Teppicymon XXVIII, Lord of the Heavens, Charioteer of the Wagon of the Sun, Steersman of the Barque of the Sun, Guardian of the Secret Knowledge, Lord of the Horizon, Keeper of the Way, the Flail of Mercy, the High-Born One, the Never-Dying King. And on formal occasions, it's considered necessary to repeat the entire thing every time he's referred to.
  • Up to Eleven: One of the poisons Teppic names is "Wasp Agaric". In our world, the Fly Agaric is a poisonous toadstool whose name reflects its use as an insecticide. Since a wasp is bigger and nastier than a fly, the Wasp Agaric is presumably that much nastier when used as poison.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Ptraci keeps tissues in her bra.
  • War Elephants: According to Pteppic, they're useless, since all they do is trample on their own troops when they inevitably panic. The military responds to this by breeding bigger elephants.
  • What a Piece of Junk: Chidder's ship, the Unnamed, is deliberately designed to invoke this trope. It's built to look so ridiculously gaudy and impractical that it takes a keen eye to spot that it has rather more cargo space than may be immediately apparent, can go a lot faster than most other ships, and may or may not conceal a ramming spur below the waterline.
  • A Wizard Did It: The Discworld equivalent of A Wizard Did It - If you can't explain/understand something, it was probably quantum.
  • Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: Pratchett wrote the whole assassin test sequence with no idea where he might take the story afterwards. As a result, this is one of his favorite books in the series as he actually got to surprise himself.